Minh Phuong Towner’s childhood was one of tragedy and hardship. Growing up during the Vietnam war, she experienced the horrors of war, prison and torture. Author of Straining Forward: Minh Phuong Towner's Story, Michelle Rahal, explained the severe conditions of Minh’s imprisonment.

“Prisoners were put two-to-a-room about the size of a closet and were forced to sleep on concrete pedestals. They received two meals per day: porridge for breakfast and a watery soup for dinner.”

“Then they were expected to work all day in the intense heat, whether it was picking corn in the fields or planting rice in six inches of water where leeches would attach to their feet by the end of the day. So it was tough. She was approximately sixteen or seventeen years old when she was jailed.”

Yet, through the tragedy and horror, God’s grace and protection shined through the darkness. Michelle shares how, as she wrote Minh’s story, Minh continued to reflect on the moments in which God’s hand was evident in her life. Michelle shares one of those stories,

“I think the story of God’s grace that surprises me the most is one about Captain Quan, who was an officer in charge of the prison where Minh was jailed after attempting to escape from the country by boat.”

“Hungry and weak, she began to pray that she would be selected to sleep with one of the officers, because she had heard that sleeping with an officer included a good meal and a comfortable bed for the night. Minh was handed off to Captain Quan and he did indeed provide her with a good meal and a safe place to sleep. But more than that he listened to her and he didn’t force himself upon her.”

While God’s providence may not have looked normal or polished in Minh’s story, it was there. Even in the darkest places, hope can be found.

“I’m just going to read a short excerpt from the book when she reflected on Captain Quan, she said,

‘Though I had been stripped of all my rights and imprisoned, I felt alive and free when I was with him. My father would have been unnerved to know that his favored daughter was content playing the role of mistress to the enemy.’

‘I didn’t see it that way. After a childhood fraught with anger, abuse, and manipulation, Captain Quan’s gentleness brought healing to my soul. I can’t profess to understand God’s ways for his ways are mysterious, but I do believe that God, in His mercy, used my enemy to sustain me during this time. God alone knew I desperately needed compassion, lest I lose all sight of hope. And without hope, my soul would have been lost.’ Straining Forward: Minh Phuong Towner's Story

Minh’s story probably does not look like yours or mine. God’s providence throughout Scripture and in each individual life is different, and yet in every story God shows Himself faithful at exactly the right time.


Michelle Rahal is a former radio news reporter and published educator. She is a graduate of Hofstra University and holds a master’s degree in education from the University of New York at Buffalo. Rahal lives in Virginia with her husband.

Straining forward, a life-changing story with Michelle Rahal

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